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The next 50: Issues in developmental policy

Published:Friday | May 18, 2012 | 12:00 AM

Wilberne Persaud, Financial Gleaner COLUMNIST

It's always a difficult question to answer: What's the most important news story this week, or rather this past week?

One might answer: Well, from whose perspective? Are we talking about Jamaica, Caricom, the world? How does one go about making this determination anyway?

First is the problem of source. Where shall we look for stories making the news? Then, supposing we could do the impossible, actually access even half the world's news stories, would these not be merely reflections of the editorial policies of the various sources from the chosen half of the world?

If we could, would it not be interesting to collect stories as they emerged and do statistical analysis? Figure out the frequency of coverage of each particular story, with the highest number of occurrences declared winner? In principle that's possible.

Yet, this might not be the best method, particularly if the objective is, say, something useful to one's readership. From this perspective, one might pick the story or stories that explore issues thought to have fundamental impact on the lives of the people and society from which the target readership comes.

Taking this as the criterion we might list the following, not in any particular order of ranking: protestations of students at UWI Mona against being excluded from sitting examinations for non-payment of fees; Turks & Caicos court revelations of alleged contributions to political parties from Olint or its convicted principal, David Smith; reports of increased competition among tertiary educational institutions, both local and foreign, based in Jamaica; unease among Caricom membership about intra-regional investment and subsidy to industrial production by Trinidad and Tobago; the office of the Contractor General wishing to review contractual arrangements of projects the government believes to be absolutely needing fast-tracked decisions.

Each of these stories in the news, or if you prefer, issues for debate, is important to Jamaica's development - both economically and socially, particularly at this juncture of the 50th anniversary of independence.

The issues fall into several categories though not for each, readily allocated to unique ministries of government.

Students who can't pay fees and become convinced their only response is to demonstrate, present an alarming symptom of malaise.

It is a dual malaise related to relative poverty and a revealed incapacity to anticipate 'system failure' and make preparations to handle it.

This is a difficult problem to solve encompassing as it does, government subvention to the UWI Mona, problematic administrative arrangements and perhaps fragile student governance. There's no need to say more than: this is a problem badly in need of a fix.

On Olint's principal and alleged contributions to political parties, abandoned court proceedings leading to settlements in the United States in the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme are instructive.

In a Ponzi scheme, late entrants' contributions pay obligations to earlier 'investors'. In the US, some of these early entry 'beneficiaries' chose to return 'too good to be true' returns instead of going ahead with court proceedings.

If this matter came to be adjudicated here, it is not unlikely that similar results could emerge - Turks and Caicos would welcome this outcome. So should Jamaica, for there are similar implications no doubt, for the Cash Plus scheme as well.

Reducing inequity

Our society ought not be interested only in the retributive aspect of the law. Such an outcome should go some way towards reducing the perceived inequity of the current situation.

Increased competition among tertiary level institutions of variegated provenance and quality, appears to be an apparatus calculated for significant misallocation of scarce resources and as well, a classic case of 'free trade' and 'free market forces' gone awry.

Recall historically, Britain 'imposed' free trade only after its commerce could out-compete the world.

Today, US farm subsidies of various sorts coexist with policies that punish 'developing countries' making efforts to support domestic agriculture while in the 1960s, 'advanced' countries thought it appropriate and allowable for countries to 'protect' their 'infant industries'.

Investment by Trinidad and Tobago capital is getting a bad name in Barbados as one of the hotels employing in excess of 500 workers faced closure. A Trinidad conglomerate owns the property.

Jamaican manufacturers grumble about unfair fuel subsidy that makes their output absolutely uncompetitive with that of the Trinidadians.

The Caricom Single Market and Economy shivers under this strain.

In the face of increased unemployment and significant debt burden, the Jamaican Government seeks to fast track projects deemed to be of the type that are both needed and stimulus-like in their impact. The contractor general has a problem with this.

Each of these issues is of significant importance from a developmental policy perspective for the society. They need to be explored to their fullest and a consensus built over how to handle them.

These are a mere smattering of issues in need of settled policy taken from everyday news stories. Should we do a diagnostic leading to envisioning the future, the slate of issues undoubtedly multiplies.

Celebrate we must, but part of Jamaica 50 should be imagining the next 50 - how we get there while avoiding big pitfalls.

Wilberne Persaud is author of 'Jamaica Meltdown: Indigenous Financial Sector Crash 1996'